Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas letters

Things that made us smile in 2009 (from our Christmas letter):

Blaze (8 years old) went away for her first overnight camping experience this summer. She got to go rappelling, canoeing, and rafting but what she talks about most is the hummingbird that got trapped inside her tent and she got to hold it for a moment before the counselors set it free outside.

Dreamer is 5 years old now and started kindergarten this fall. She keeps us smiling with all the funny things she says. Like demonstrating to her sisters as she’s eating cheese and crackers: “this is how a princess eats a cracker.” One time after watching Sleeping Beauty, Dreamer told us her own version of the story, where the prince kisses the princess in the tower, but the princess doesn’t wake up until Jesus kisses her!

It didn’t make us smile when Starlet (just turned three) broke her arm this spring (she lost her balance while climbing on furniture). But we did smile to see how proud she was showing off her bright pink cast, with her sisters’ and cousins’ signatures on it.

Serious had a couple climbing adventures too. I learned to never leave the horses tied up along the fence after Serious climbed up on the fence and then over onto Rebel’s back all by herself. The twins love the horses and always want to get up in the saddle and have me lead them around.

Stars, my stepdaughter, got to spend a little extra time with us this summer because B. drove up to meet her mom half-way and bring her horse Callie to stay with us for the summer too. We got to see her compete (and practically win everything) at a couple horse shows. Stars competes in Western Pleasure, Western Equitation, Trail, Showmanship, and some English events too. The precision required for some of the show patterns is just phenomenal.

This fall B. has branched from the plumbing/excavation business into cattle. Yes, cattle. As in cows and steers. It has gone beyond just a couple calves for roping practice! We now officially own the “Diamond B” brand and he welded the brand himself and had a roundup and branding.

Here are few more little "moments" that didn't get into the letter, but I'd like to keep a record of them:

Grandpa teases Dreamer that he's going to steal her belly button. Dreamer tells him: "I left my belly button at home!"

Thankful that we live a couple hundred feet above town - twice now I've coasted the car (out of gas) down Grand Ave and managed to coast right into the gas pumps at Albertson's.

When we shared testimonies at our Bible study, Rob and Diane had the funniest engagement story - Diane told her parents before she introduced Rob to them that he was missing a finger and was very sensitive about it so to make sure they didn't offer to shake his hand. Well Rob didn't know about the practical joke so first thing he does when he meets the parents is extend his hand - much to their shock!

Other useful things I learned at Bible study from John Hutcheson: a good prank to play on school principals is release a bunch of crickets in their office, a "Biblical plague." Another good prank: release four goats in the school, labeled "1", "2", "3", and "5". Another term for a chamber pot is a "thunder jug"

We ran into one of B.'s friends at a resturant and B. asked him, "how's your wife and my kids?"

Mom started writing down some of the funny things Dreamer would say while over at their house: "Orange juice makes my tongue spicy" "Sometimes I don't know any everything" "I want to play my music." (Mom: "where's your music?") "My music is my voice!" Dreamer folds her hands and says "My fingers are sleeping on each other." "I have girl power."

Blaze showed me how to blow bubbles through your fingers when you wash your hands.

Some good advice for one when someone swears: "Jesus Christ!" - simply reply "loves you!"

Life was hard for our kitty, Cleo, this year, having to share the house with a new puppy. Especially when B. put her and Remington into the same cage so they could “become friends.” Remie (half lab, half Rottweiler) is about 80 pounds now, but he’s still scared of the kitty. Also in regards to the dog cage, for a while Serious and Starlet liked to play a game with a each other, constructing a "cage" with toys and stuffed animals and telling each other "puppy get in your cage!"

Whenever the girls see a yellow car, they shout out "I see a bumblebee car!" (in reference to the movie, Transformers)

Blaze loves to play the Sparkies CD, which is all verses and Bible songs. She learned all the books of the Bible by listening to the Bible book song over and over again. It about drove me crazy, but I wasn't going to complain!


Taking a moment here and there to write down these moments on my calendar - and then reading them over again when it's time to write a Christmas letter to send out with Christmas - cards - this reminds me that even though it's tempting to remember 2009 primarily as "glad it's over, hope 2010 is better!" - the year was actually full of lots of wonderful things. Thank you Lord!

Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa B's in South Dakota. The usual 9-1/2 hour drive ended up taking over 11 hours because the roads were icy (three turkeys crossing the road in front of me while I was driving just above gave me a heart-attack). But on the other hand, it was one of the most beautiful drives because everything was frosted and sculpted with ice.

We got there just in time for a blizzard, stuck in the house for 4 days, but it was very relaxing, and the kids loved playing in the giant snow drifts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas preparations and verses

I am late this year with my Christmas traditions - grading final projects set me back, and then I had to pull a few near-all nighters this past week to get ready for CARAT-GIS training at the Pinedale, Wyoming BLM office. Remind me never to schedule a training (or anything else, for that matter) in December. I simply was not motivated to work on it. It was almost agony to force myself to open the program on my computer. Oh thank you thank you Lord that it is over now. Despite a combination of grading and training stress, I've managed to squeeze in most of my Christmas highlights this year. The annual University Christmas tree auction: we can't afford any of the trees but they sure are fun to look at. Here is a picture of me with the twins in front of my favorite tree, decorated in a "cowboy" theme. The day after the Christmas tree auction is usually the University's Christmas Concert, which ranges from jazz ensembles to accapella to a full symphonic and 100+ person choir finale. Wonderful!

Then last weekend we had something new - Blaze and Dreamer were in our church's nativity play as angels. Thank you Mom for sewing their tunics. Sewing and I just don't go together. My pitiful attempt at sewing an Advent calendar for my friend K.A. is witness of this. I have it about 1/3 done, and I'm about ready to give up on it. I envisioned it looking so much better! But I will finish it (though at the rate I'm going it will after Christmas) and if it still doesn't look good, I'll keep it for us and find a proper seamstress to help me with one next year.

Speaking of the advent calendar though, another beloved Christmas tradition I remember from my childhood and now revived again for my girls. I made a paper version last year and the girls were excited to see it reappear this year. They love it because of the candy they get after finding the current day's number and corresponding picture and verse, no doubt, but I love it because the verses help us keep in sight the true reason for Christmas.

A beloved tradition is decorating the house. This is not a chore, and it is not something you do just to have a pretty Christmas house, the process of unpacking and unwrapping and setting up is all part of it, too. The past few years I have started collecting Christmas ornaments and decorations, and I find it simply delightful to pull out the boxes and rediscover everything each year. Because of course you forget a lot of things, and then when they reappear again from their tissue paper wrappings, even little $1 ornaments can be a delight. I especially love the decorations that were gifts from family or friends. And it is all the more special with the kids oohing and aahing over everything too. Here is my ever-expanding collection of nutcrackers (note how they are arranged on top of the piano, to discourage curious three- year-old hands from playing with them). And also a photo of the nativity scene that my in-laws gave us, and Joy showed me how to paint it.

What would Christmas be without parties? Especially white elephant gift parties. I think this is the greatest game ever invented. A free way to have hilarious fun! Our Tuesday night Bible study had a white elephant gift exchange at our Christmas party, and there were some really nice gifts and some really awful (but funny ones!) I started out by stealing a pretty wooden decorative sleigh; got that stolen from me but was able to steal another good gift and keep it - a couple books and a decorative lantern. The funniest gift was a collection of really awful mugs. Boot mugs, mugs with Indian faces, but the best one of all was a toilet mug. I almost, ALMOST decided to steal this just so I could see the expression on B's face when I brough the toilet mug home to him (he missed the party). You know, him being a plumber and all. John H. made a comment about the mug that was absolutely priceless. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

"When you fill that mug up with coffee and hand it the poor soul on the receiving end, you just HAVE to ask them this: 'would you like one lump or two?' "

Maybe you had to be there, but that was funny. That was classic John H. funny - he's made me crack up a hundred times but I swear he saved the best for last. (oh how we will miss him! John and Lisa are moving away so he can finish seminary - I've known them 15 years! I can't imagine our church without them!)

As the year is wrapping up, I have a few more memory verses that I want to share from Beth Moore's scripture memory challenge.

From November:

Proverbs 14:1 The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.
This is a good verse to remember when I am frustrated/furious at B. and I just want to break free from him. I have had a lot of those moments this year with all the financial stress that has come along with the recession and B's business doing so poorly. I do not want to be a foolish woman. I do not want to react based on feelings, but on the wisdom of the Word.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

This is an amazing pair of verses, I have always loved this verse and figured it was due time to have it fully memorized. It speaks of miracle of the Word, that it's not just some dusty old historical book. It is living and active! It is life-changing.

For December:

John 7:17 If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of this teaching, whether it is of God..
I have always thought that John 7:17 is an amazing verse to have on hand when an opportunity to talk with skeptics. Unfortunately, I haven't yet had an opportunity to use it, but at least if I have it memorized I will be ready when the time finally comes.

This next verse is Beth Moore's favorite verse, and when she mentioned it I remembered it was one of my favorites too, but one I have forgotten about it. Well, hopefully I won't forget it again - if I put it on my memory list!
Psalm 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

I need to really make a good effort to work on learning my November and December verses and also reviewing my other verses for the year. It is sad how quickly they get lost if you don't make an effort every week or two. And it doesn't take long - only 10 or 15 minutes. And the process of learning them and reviewing them is itself a time of communion and worship with my Jesus and my Lord - a time to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God With Us

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: “God with us.” We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a Baby in the manger is the truth that this promised Baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!

~ John F. MacArthur, Jr.

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: "God with us." I thought that was worth repeating.

Many of us have heard the saying "it's not about religion, it's about relationship" - in fact many of us have said these very words when we are trying to share our faith with others, especially when we hear people say "I believe in God, but I think religions/churches are all messed up".

"God with us" emphasizes the relationship aspect, particularly the part where God initiates a relationship with us, He seeks us, He goes even so far to come to earth as one of us, and not as we would expect - not coming to earth in all his flashing Glory to make us tremble in awe. But He instead He came to earth as a newborn baby, the most helpless state of human being. "The Word became flesh and lived among us." (John 1:14) He wanted to share with us in our human experience, through each stage of growth and experience. So He can relate to us. And we can also relate to Him who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, our temptations, our pains, even our tears - because He experienced them all, too.

I'm not sure if you can have any sort of real relationship with another being if you can't relate to them on some level. We all desire to connect to each other in some way. We want to tell someone our experience and have them say "Oh, yes! I understand! I had something like that happen to me too!"

I believe the closest relationships are the ones where we relate to each other the most. Parents and children, because they spend so much of their lives together. They have so much history, so many shared experiences. Even most rebellious teens, once they mellow with age a little, start to realize they have a lot they can relate to with their parents.

Now husbands and wives, this is a very interesting relationship because it starts later in life, and initially one might find a few things (mainly, hormones!) that you relate to each other on; but you also discover a myriad of things about each other that you don't relate to at all! But you stick with your mate - sometimes only because you made vows and the vows are the only thing keeping you together. But gradually, because you are with each other, more common experiences accumulate that glue you closer together. And one day you wake up and find out that your love for your husband is much, much stronger than it was when you were married. What you thought was love, back then, has deepened into something strong and refined and beautiful, tested by and strengthened by trials.

"God with us" is kind of like the parent/child relationship, and the husband/wife relationship, and the friend/friend relationship, all wrapped up in one, with an additional element that we have no earthly comparison to because God is, after all, God, an infinite and omniscient and glorious being. His ways are above our ways. He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

On a personal note, I'm so glad I came across this quote and took the time to ponder it, because everything else about December so far has felt rushed and stressed. I am not used to having to work so much this time of year, or having looming deadlines. I'd like to take time to trim my tree, string lights outside, bake cookies with the girls, unearth a few more Christmas CD's to play. But this has made me sit back and concentrate on the MOST important thing. Thank you Lord.

The quote from John McArthur was chosen by the writer of Scraps and Snippets blog. Each Friday a new quote is shared on, along with the host site for the week. Anyone wanting to participate can ponder on the quote and write about about it on their blog, then link your post to the host blog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The twins' third birthday

It's B's 39th birthday today (for the next two months we are the same age). The twins just turned three yesterday and they didn't "Get it" at all - not even when Linda gave them a couple presents to open. I kept asking them "How old are you?" and I got various responses, sometimes my question asked back at me, sometimes gibberish. I had to prompt them to say "Three!" But tonight we had cake with candles at Grandma and Grandpa H's, and they certainly "got" the candle part - they were so excited they started blowing out the candles before Mom had got all six of them lighted (they each got three candles, but one cake). And they sure had a good grasp that the giant toy horse that Mom dragged out for them belonged to them, too! These pictures don't do the size of this horse justice - it's truly the size of a real live Shetland pony. The twins and Dreamer  can't even climb up on it without help!

I am thankful for... my family. B kissed me goodbye this morning and said, "I love you so much. Do you know how much I love you?" I visited Blaze and Dreamer for lunch today at school and they both insisted on giving me multiple kisses and hugs. Tonight we had a yummy dinner with my parents. I was hoping to see my father smile, at least once, and the ultimate, to get him to laugh. him. I did hear something that almost resembled a laugh from him at Thanksgiving. We had Nicole and her parents, Stan and Carol, over to join us for Thanksgiving. As I was introducing them to my parents, my father and Stan discovered that they both liked to introduce their wives as "my first wife" (just to confound people... they are both still married to their first wives!) Anyway my father definitely smiled at that and sort of laughed. Well, tonight I not only got multiple smiles out of my Dad (especially when Mom brought out the giant pony and the kids went crazy over it), but I heard a real genuine laugh from him. Mom had got a few birthday noise-maker toys, you know the kind that you blow on them and they roll out and make a funny noise. Well, the twins didn't get out to make things work at first, so B. was demonstrating. As B. took a deep breath and popped the paper out with its noise right in Annie's face, she jumped so far back with such a look of alarm - immediately followed by a grin and a giggle - that got my Dad laughing, too! (In fact, I'd say he was almost back to his old self tonight. He even talked quite a bit, and didn't fall asleep on us once!)

A few other random mentions from the past week:

I am going... to have a wonderful weekend going to Christmas tree auctions with the kids and a Christmas concert with my mom. I am also going to be up very late at night getting ready for a big training session next week in Pinedale. And grading final projects. And working on the Advent Calendar for Karen. 'Tis the season for extreme busyness. Lord, help me to stay close to you even in the midst of everything that needs to get done.

I am reading... I had a small break between the end of November and getting my 50,000 words finished for NaNoWriMo, and the final craziness of the end of the semester, so I just finished reading a fun book called "Girl At Sea" by Maureen Johnson - a young adult book (Stars and I went to the library while she was here over Thanksgiving and I never got past the young adult section to get to the adult section). This book had a nice mix of humor, mystery, beautiful places in Italy, romance, and - a nice surprise - very high quality writing. I hope to write a book like this some day! It's only detraction - it wasn't Christian.

I am hoping and praying... that Stars' granny wins her struggle with cancer. I have several other important prayers too that are too private to share on a blog. But you know what they are Lord. Thank you for the amazing conversation I had with Stars  while she was here!

I am learning... that teaching is a lot harder than I thought. I have lots of teaching experience; but teaching University students it a lot different than teaching short "canned" classes to professionals. There is a lot more ground to cover; a lot more complicated subject material; a lot less direct interaction with the students (I had TA's teaching the labs) and the part that I found most confounding of all - test questions are REALLY hard to write! Getting the wording right is crucial.

On my mind... the reponse I want to write to a couple comments I got on my earlier post Why Tolerance Isn't Enough

Pondering these words... A quote that Nicole sent me, by a J.R. Miller:

"We dread pain! And yet the person who has not experienced pain has notyet touched the deepest and most precious meanings of life. There are things we can never learn except in the school of pain. There are heights of life we can never attain, except in the bitterness of sorrow. There are joys we can never have until we have walked in the dark ways of sorrow. Not to have sorrow, in some form, is to miss on of life's holiest opportunities. We get our best things out of afflication. I have refined you in the furnace of suffering. Isaiah 48:10

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

about 85% done

I have my third NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) behind me, and my second win. My second novel has reached 100,000 words - roughly 300 pages - that's the good news. The bad news is: it's still not done! I estimate I'm about 85% there. The conclusion is still looming ahead of me... But hold on, that's not all bad news. The main thing is that I am past the Middle (see below for an account of the horrors of the Middle).

Lesson learned from NaNoWriMo this year: writing the second half of a book is actually quite a bit easier than the first half. The characters have already developed minds of their own, and you've created enough sub-plots to keep your creative juices flowing. In fact, in my case, probably TOO MANY subplots, judging by the length. I hate the thought of having to cut anything, but it's a necessary process.

Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. ~Colette

So the following is one of the motivational emails that NaNoWriMo sends out from published authors (I just checked out a book from the library by this gal. Now that it's December, I have time to read again!)

Dear writer,
I have a very good friend who is Australian. I've never been to Australia, so she is constantly selling me on the merits of her homeland and setting me straight on things. For example, I have always wanted hold a koala. She informs me that koalas smell and spread disease. What I want instead, she informs me, are flying foxes, sugar bananas, rainbow lorikeets, mangosteens, and Sydney sunrises. One thing that always impresses me in her descriptions is just how large Australia is—and how empty in the middle. Australia is comparable in size to the continental United States, but almost everyone lives on the coast. So it would be like having Los Angles, and then New York, with almost nothing in between. Nothing except for monsters, that is. Because almost everything that lives out there in the middle of nowhere can kill you. 97% of the snakes in Australia are poisonous. The spiders are the size of washing machines, but it's the tiny ones you have to watch for. It's all teeth and venom out there. So just put a huge "here be dragons" in the middle of your mental map and you'll have a pretty good picture of Australia. The cities are said to be wonderful—paradises of culture and wine and song. It's just that middle 2,000 miles that you have to watch out for.

Perhaps this rings a bell right about now, smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo?Those first few days with your idea... oh, how wonderful they are! How sweetly it goes! And you wander on, past the city limits, into the bush. The signposts disappear, and the creatures come out. You have wandered into The Middle. Thing is, writers spend something like 97% of their time in The Middle. Once you leave those first pages, those first days... you wander into strange land and you stay there for a long, long time. It took me a little while, probably a few years of full-time writing, to fully accept that that middle bit was where I was going to be spending pretty much all of my time. This is the thing they don't tell you. When you see portrayals of writers on television or in movies, what are they normally doing? They're sipping coffee or cocktails, or jetting around to signings, or solving murders for fun. Lies! I mean, these things do happen, but those are the coastal bits. Most of the time we are deep inland—sitting at home, or at the office, or some shed or underground bunker. We eat what we find and slurp coffee from anything that is sturdier than coffee. Often, we are inappropriately dressed for any human interaction. This is because we are in the middle. And in the middle, things are rough. You make bargains with yourself like, "If I finish this chapter, I can have a shower!" Or, "If I just get this paragraph right, I can eat those stale Oreos!"Now, I realize in saying this that perhaps I am not selling you on the writing experience. I'm supposed to be cheering you on! You already know that the middle is a hard place to be. Perhaps right about now you are asking yourself, "What, precisely, is wrong with me? Why did I decide that the best way to spend the month of November would be indoors, strapped to a chair, writing thousands of words a day, alone, friendless, and insane? Why didn't I just agree to come to my desk every day, bang my head on it for a solid ten minutes, and be done with it? That would have been so much faster."

Here’s the thing, though...if you're doing NaNoWriMo, you are a reader, because all writers are readers. Which means that you must admire many authors. Your shelves are lined with the works of your heroes and sheroes. Every single one of them has crossed the wild country where you are now. Every single one of them has been a resident of The Middle. The ground you're treading is full of the remains of their old campsites. And somewhere around you, just out of sight, current authors you admire are making their own way across The Middle. What's nice about NaNoWriMo is that you are traveling with a posse of thousands, all of you making your way over the mountains, through the valleys, across the creeks. You are fighting off the beasties.
And once you've crossed The Middle once or twice and you're lounging on the other side, you'll find you miss it. You'll realize you long to be out there again, under the sky and the stars. The weather changes a lot in the middle. Some days, the skies are dark and it's hard to find your way forward. Those days are long and little progress is made. Some days, it's strangely bright and clear, and suddenly you can see the horizon ahead, and dozens of possible paths present themselves to you. But every day is different, and every day there is a new way to go and a new thing to see. You will be hooked.
-Maureen Johnson